I generally pride myself on my non-touristic traveling. I like to find things off the beaten path.
I want to eat in mom and pop restaurants that serve native specialties and drink in dive bars where the locals hang out. I like to pick one or two really important sites to visit and not worry so much the rest. Instead of running from one monument or museum to the next, I want to hang out, eat well, drink lots and soak up the vibes of the city.
All over Europe and the U.S I have been able to manage this sort of travel quite well except in Barcelona. During our 5 days there, my best friend and I kind of got sucked into the tourist spots and couldn’t find our way out. We asked for suggestions but everyone kept pointing us in the same direction. As if we were living in Groundhog Day, no matter which way we wandered we would find ourselves back at La Rambla, the main street for tourist restaurants and shops. So we ate cheap Chinese and laughed our way through a faux-Italian pasta dinner and drank too-big margaritas.
We had a few wins; a cool local tapas spot, a quiet trip to Poble Espanyol, and one strange night where we met a bunch of Brits on holiday who sat down in the street with us, drinking until six in the morning.
But the most authentic experience we had was when we ended up in a strange beer-house, tucked away in the back of a winding maze of streets. We wandered in, ordered a pitcher and sat down at the end of one of the long, community style picnic tables. The people beside us smiled politely and after a few minutes, struck up a conversation, (in English, of course. We must have been wearing that signature timid tourist look.)
They were born in Barcelona and had spent their lives experiencing the city the way we had spent the last few days hoping to. They were leaving soon to go to a disco to meet all of their friends. It was a spot where Barcelonians loved to hang out and did we want to join?
Now, Irene and I aren’t really the club type of girls, but we looked at each other for just a split second before agreeing in unison, no less, to join them. We were on a mission to see something the tourists wouldn’t.
We hopped in a cab with our new friends, and headed to the club. They quickly got us to the front of the line and into the packed dance hall. We wiggled around a little bit and had a couple of drinks and after a little while we decided to head to the bathroom. A man in black with a headset directed us through a curtain and down a set of stairs.
As we descended we felt the bass grow heavier… music was blaring. We were sure we were headed in the wrong direction. We got further down and we found ourselves in a long, brightly lit bathroom. There were two rows of sinks, opposite walls and everyone was splashing water at each other from across the room, an all out water fight. A DJ was in the corner playing Call Me Maybe and everyone was dancing.
We looked at each other, shocked for a moment before bursting out in laughter and joining in with the bathroom dance party.
After that, nothing else really mattered. We could happily be tourists for the rest of the trip. Because let’s be real, once you’ve been part of a Barcelona bathroom rave, your trip has pretty much peaked.